A School’s response to a Site Visit Report

This posting talks about what is required of a member school after they receive a site-visit report.

First some background.  Our Policies and Procedures (and other documents) address specific processes and timeframes for the site visits.  While the process is documented in our Bylaws and Policies and Procedures, we are taking steps, (such as our new Blog – https://artseminaries.org/blog/ ) to further explain the process in plain language. 

After a site-visit is concluded, the report is finalized by the site visit team and sent to the school for their review and comments. If a site visit team marks as standard as “partially, or not met” then these are items that the school needs to respond with a plan for remediation.  That plan is then reviewed by the ARTS Executive Director and forwarded to the COA for approval.  For most items, Schools will tend to agree to the findings of the site visit team, and they will say something to the effect that:  “Yes, we recognize that this is a problem and here’s how we will fix it by <date>.” Schools have 12 months to remedy notations. 

The key is that the ARTS-COA requires compliance, not just a response to items which partially meet, or do not meet, ARTS standards.

However, what happens when a School does not agree with the COA’s findings?  The first step is to seek more information to understand the school’s perspective.  Usually, a short discussion clarifies, and the institution has time to come into compliance.  The submission of the next annual report is a logical “touchpoint” to monitor areas of improvement.  However, if an institution does not demonstrate correction of the notations and compliance with the standards within 12 months then the COA would take action as delineated in our Policies and Procedures.

The COA also takes into consideration the nature of the standard which has been partially, or not at all met.  Not all standards or lack of compliance are of the same importance or carry the same weight.  In other words, there are mortal and venal sins.

The complexity of standard non-compliance is also a factor.  Take standard 8.7 for instance.  “The institution shall include on its website, social media, and any other appropriate publication an explanation of accreditation and the dangers of diploma and accreditation mills.” If an explanation does not exist, it is a simple thing to add it in a relatively short period of time.  However if a school does not currently have a chief executive officer it might takes months, or longer, to find a suitable candidate.

As noted above, there are gradations in the process.  Some areas of non-compliance are clear cut.  E.g., Standard 8.5, “…does the institution publish and make publicly available an academic catalog…?  If a catalog does not exist, it is a clear failure on the school’s part.  Our new training for site-visit teams will help teams understand and apply rubrics for those areas in a standard which are less clear in interpretation.  Again, to take 8.5 as our example, the site-visit team may feel that the academic catalog’s structure or language does not fully explain to prospective students the precise nature of the programs.  The site-visit team has the obligation to make comments and suggestions with the goal of helping the institution improve. 

Finally, having said all of that, there may be items in a site-visit for which there are differing opinions on the ARTS-COA.  Given that there are such items, and the changing and evolving nature of the state of theological education, the COA must keep an open mind to potential revisions in the standards and/or further elucidation of our tenets and practices.  The COA needs to practice continual self-evaluation and ensure that we are applying ARTS standards consistently.

We still have some details to work out in this process to make sure that we are applying our metrics and rubrics for compliance equitably across all our institutions.  In addition, we want to make sure that we are pursuing any actions in a timely fashion.

The bottom line in all of this is the recognition that we are all involved in a process of continual self-improvement.

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